Drug Resistance in Epilepsy: Clinical Impact, Potential Mechanisms, and New Innovative Treatment Options

Pharmacol Rev. 2020 Jul;72(3):606-638. doi: 10.1124/pr.120.019539.


Epilepsy is a chronic neurologic disorder that affects over 70 million people worldwide. Despite the availability of over 20 antiseizure drugs (ASDs) for symptomatic treatment of epileptic seizures, about one-third of patients with epilepsy have seizures refractory to pharmacotherapy. Patients with such drug-resistant epilepsy (DRE) have increased risks of premature death, injuries, psychosocial dysfunction, and a reduced quality of life, so development of more effective therapies is an urgent clinical need. However, the various types of epilepsy and seizures and the complex temporal patterns of refractoriness complicate the issue. Furthermore, the underlying mechanisms of DRE are not fully understood, though recent work has begun to shape our understanding more clearly. Experimental models of DRE offer opportunities to discover, characterize, and challenge putative mechanisms of drug resistance. Furthermore, such preclinical models are important in developing therapies that may overcome drug resistance. Here, we will review the current understanding of the molecular, genetic, and structural mechanisms of ASD resistance and discuss how to overcome this problem. Encouragingly, better elucidation of the pathophysiological mechanisms underpinning epilepsies and drug resistance by concerted preclinical and clinical efforts have recently enabled a revised approach to the development of more promising therapies, including numerous potential etiology-specific drugs ("precision medicine") for severe pediatric (monogenetic) epilepsies and novel multitargeted ASDs for acquired partial epilepsies, suggesting that the long hoped-for breakthrough in therapy for as-yet ASD-resistant patients is a feasible goal. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Drug resistance provides a major challenge in epilepsy management. Here, we will review the current understanding of the molecular, genetic, and structural mechanisms of drug resistance in epilepsy and discuss how the problem might be overcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacokinetics
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsy / genetics
  • Epilepsy / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anticonvulsants